Garden art from the Junktion

John Hilhorst is always on the lookout for “interesting stuff” and has sheds full of odds and ends – fortunately wife Karen shares his passion for creative recycling.


The top two sections of the Great Balls of Wire artwork by Karen and John Hilhorst at Te Puna Quarry Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple are behind one of Te Puna Quarry Park’s newer sculptures, Great Balls of Wire, a set of three balls made from barbed wire and mounted on a central post.

“You can’t use barbed wire on boundary fences on public roads anymore,” John says, “so there has been some old stuff around. We’ve sourced some from Karen’s brother’s farm in Waikato but we’ve used it all. We advertised for more but didn’t have any replies.”

Karen made her first ball wearing shearing chaps and a leather glove to handle the wire. “But one hand had to be free to use the tool to join the pieces,” she says. “It was pretty hard on my skin.”

That ball sits in their Tidalwood garden south of Katikati, and it was this that John and Gay Ireland saw on a visit.

“We’ve known the Irelands for years – we bought their Mamaku dairy farm 25 years ago and have been friends ever since,” Karen says.

The Irelands commissioned a barbed wire sculpture for Te Puna Quarry Park, where they are both long-time volunteers. Karen refined her original design and John helped her make the three-tier Great Balls of Wire.

A walk round their garden reveals their quirky sense of humour – Faulty Towers is a collection of op shop pottery fixed to clay irrigation pipes, a set of stocks and a knight were made by John for a mediaeval-theme birthday party and the Orbitron is an old railway flour carrier converted into a children’s playhouse by John.


John and Karen Hilhorst in their kitchen garden, which is surrounded by John’s home-made palisade fence. Photo: Sandra Simpson

At Karen’s request he made a palisade-style fence around their potager, primarily to keep out pukeko and rabbits. A neighbour was so impressed she ordered one too, but about five times larger.

“ It was quite a job,” Karen says, “especially doing the points. There are four varying lengths and John fixes them in randomly.”


ome of Karen’s mosaic work on an upside-down terracotta pot. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Karen, who used to do mosaic work, goes to pottery classes and makes art from groups of recycled objects, such as candlesticks or colanders, while John is restoring an old truck (he’s made a sign from the deck – General Junktion) and sculpting a recycled block of Oamaru stone.

“We’re always looking for things that may be interesting one day,” he says.

“We bought home a trailer-load when they closed the museum at the Historic Village [in Tauranga] and when we go away anywhere we’re always on the lookout. One thing about this though, you’ve got to have a reasonable-size shed.”


A piece of recycled electrical equipment ties together the colours of Loropetalum China Pink, coloured flaxes and papyrus. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.


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